Work Experience

The top button of my mother’s work pants, a size too small for me, digs into my tummy. My shoulders feel like they are splitting the seams of my freshly-ironed burgundy shirt. They say puberty is a blossoming into womanhood, but my body must have taken a wrong turn. At fifteen, I am gangling limbs and pimpled brow and round gold glasses. They stopped calling me pretty when I was eleven.

I sit in a small office on the first day of work experience. Across the desk from me is a middle-aged man. He’s white. He carries a bit of extra weight around his middle. His green tie clashes with his shirt, which is the colour of old bread.

He talks about the company. He is an unfamiliar entity to me, and so I don’t say much. The office is ringed with open shelves, stacked with folders, bristling with papers. His coffee mug leaves a moist ring on the laminate surface of his desk. The room smells like dust and stale biscuits.

“Well!” he says, standing up. “I bombarded you with a lot of information. Hope you can remember everything!”

I stand up too, smile, and say thank you.

“Ah, you’ll be right. You young Chinese girls, I know you. You’re all extremely smart. Especially at maths!”

He grins expectantly at me. I think he thinks he’s paid me a compliment.

I smile and nod and say thank you again.

Stuff #1

Like a snail, I drag a mountain of stuff with me wherever I go.

I have all sorts of stuff. It fills rooms. It wedges wardrobe doors open. It transforms the backs of cupboards into a black hole of forgotten condiments and expired food. I scour the shops in search of storage solutions: more stuff to solve the problem of stuff.

There’s the Stuff They Told Me I Needed. A pair of black boots and a pair of brown boots, because you can’t just have one pair–what if you want to dress down, for god’s sake?! A shiny computer, because to work on that old model would be an abomination, an absolute abomination. A set of $300 headphones, because that song deserves to be heard in high fidelity. It would be wrong otherwise.

There’s the Stuff That’s Supposed To Make Me Beautiful. Oil cleaners and foam cleansers and toners and serums and face masks and BB creams and CC creams. Lash-extending mascara and false eyelashes and lip stain and cheek stain and nail polish. It’s revolutionary technology, until the next revolution.

There’s the Stuff Other People Gave Me Which I Feel Too Guilty To Move On. Keyrings. Souvenirs from Paris from someone else’s trip ten years ago. A book you still haven’t got around to reading, you terrible person. A camera. A diary, unfilled. Sometimes I take out the items and admire their pretty shapes.

There’s the Stuff That Carries the Past. This is the hardest sort of stuff to discard. These items are heavy, even if they’re just pieces of paper. They pull you to the ground and swallow you in memories.

One day, I will peel off all this stuff, layers of it, and slither away like a snake leaving her old, lifeless skin.

Fathers

Our fathers left their lands to look for better ones.

They left their lands and their loved ones and the lives they had built up around nice jobs and nice houses and the corner-shop snacks of their childhood. They went overseas, often alone at first. Searching for new homes and small money. Trading in the clunky words of a new language, trying not to look the fool. Modern day scouts for their fledgling families.

The weapons of our fathers were moderation and caution. For their families, it was better to have a safety net than an SUV. They learnt to calculate when not to take risks and when to hold their tongues. Because they could not rise in the ranks of a foreign company through youth or charm or eloquence or appearance, they learnt to put their heads down and swallow racism and work hard and complain little.

They weathered anxiety so that we would not have to. They absorbed worry, turned it over and over silently, wore it down. Buried it deep, heaped it over with other things. Traded their dreams for their children’s.

Our fathers put their cultural memories into a little box that they brought with them to the new land, and sometimes opened. The children laughed, thinking that there was no use for such things in this new, loud, opportunistic place. We dismissed their wariness, not knowing that it allowed us to survive, and ventured bravely forth into the world, believing it is ours.

Bodies No.1

The new girl was plump, gloriously plump, in a way that made Angie, who had always craved thinness, want to be just as full and shapely. The new girl had apple-round cheeks that tapered to a dainty chin. Her nails were painted gold and sat like gems embedded in her fleshy fingers. She had the sort of fingers that you liked to watch kneading dough, or braiding hair, or handling jewellery.

She neither flaunted nor hid her body. Her jeans followed the expanses of her buttocks and hips and fell cleanly to her ankles. Her fitted black top hugged the swells of her breasts and tummy. She wore the sleeves pushed up to her elbows, revealing chubby, smooth forearms and a bracelet from which dangled the letter J.

Angie watched as the new girl lifted her chin and laughed. The small of her lower back made a letter C, rising into the softness of shoulders, the softness of chestnut curls. Angie felt the corners of her own mouth tugging into a smile.

I, Impostor

I don’t have original thoughts. All my opinions come from much more creative people. I read them and listen to them, and I absorb their brilliant ideas, and mash them together into something that sounds sort of clever, but isn’t so much once you scratch the surface. One day someone will find out.

I’m not as smart as people think I am. From young, I learnt to follow rules. To read the subtext of society’s expectations. To prep hard for exams. To choose the safest and most likely answer. That way, you can get good marks, even if you’re not a genius. One day someone will find out.

I think they can tell I’m not capable. I’ve only weaselled into this position through luck and upbringing. I’m not eloquent like that guy in the glasses. I’m not technically skilful like that woman in the green skirt. I haven’t even done my laundry in a week, and last night I cried myself to sleep. Who am I to give them advice?

One day someone will find out that I’m a fraud.

How to be a Woman

Keep trying your hardest to be a Woman.

Look after your appearance. People will disregard you if you’re unattractive. Doubly so if you’re fat. Ensure you apply anti-wrinkle products. Age is inversely correlated with relevance.

Don’t be too emotional. If you do get upset, quickly minimise it by attributing it to your hormones. But don’t be too aloof, either. Women should be warm, not cold.

Always have a prepared answer for the questions:
1. When do you want to have kids?
2. How many kids do you want to have?

Laugh genially at jokes about women belonging in the kitchen. You must have a sense of humour, even if it’s not funny.

Be relaxed enough to be ‘one of the blokes’. Be savvy enough to be ‘one of the girls’.

Work bloody hard for that promotion, to make up for the fact that you may need to take maternity leave, or drop to part-time, or you’re just not as tall and white and relatable and impressive as the dude who used to be your colleague.

Remember that your time isn’t yours. Apart from work, remember the other important things. Keep your house modern and enviable: a steady stream of candles, cushions and kitchen appliances are helpful. It’s advisable to have a repertoire of signature dishes ready to whip out in front of unexpected guests. Of course, if you have kids, that comes first.

Know how to apply make-up so that you look like you’re not wearing make-up.

Drink wine, but not too much (drunks aren’t attractive). Read, but not too much (nerds aren’t attractive). Exercise, but not too much (bodybuilders aren’t attractive).

Curate your Instagram.

Don’t be an expert. Always be ready to receive an explanation from a Man. Bonus points if you smile and nod a lot.